Spartacus: Vengeance, Controversy, and Criticism
When Spartacus: Blood and Sand debuted on the STARZ network in January of 2010 few people could’ve guessed it would become the monster success it is today. Even the show’s creator and head writer, Steven S. DeKnight, had his doubts. “When we first started out this show was universally hated,” DeKnight said in a press interview. “We got off to a rocky start. That first episode was by far our weakest one.” However, the creative forces behind the sword and sandals epic quickly learned from their mistakes and the series—which will begin its second season titled Spartacus: Vengeance on January 27—soon picked up steam, intriguing viewers with its complex storylines and impressive effects.
At the same time, the cable network series snagged a legion of gay fans thanks to the show’s army of gorgeous gladiators and a fluid depiction of sexuality—a controversial creative choice that earned the show and its creator a fair amount of criticism. “One of the things, to this day, I’m still getting comments about is, ‘all the gay shit in my show’ and people asking me to tone it down,” says DeKnight. “I always say, ‘no.’ As far as I’m concerned it’s barely in there to start with and it was part and parcel of that world and it’s part and parcel of our world now, so I ignore that. If people want to stop watching the show because two guys kiss, well, I shrug my shoulders. That will always be in there.”
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Check out the 'Spartakiss' from Spartacus: Blood and Sand below.]
DeKnight says the show’s depiction of sex and violence may have caused some viewers to dismiss the series early on, but he insists the show is much more than the sum of its controversial scenes.
“For me this has always been a romance. I love a good romance and all the relationships in the show,” DeKnight said. “There are many romantic plots being played out and I think ultimately that’s the heart of the series. Without that it would just be blood and sex and violence and this season is no different. The story has to be emotionally driven, no matter what’s happening. If there’s an orgy going on [the scene] can’t be about the orgy, it has to be about who wants what from whom. It’s about finding the balance between entertainment and the true human emotion.”
Nevertheless, DeKnight doesn’t deny the effort that goes into making Spartacus one of the sexiest shows on television. Each actor who plays one of the show’s sword-swinging hunks must endure weeks of vigorous training in order to transform his body into one of the gods of the arena we see on the screen. “We have a boot camp every year for new people coming in, and our returning cast, to bone up on their fighting skills and to help them get back in tip-top shape. I think we’re one of the few shows [where] the men have it rougher than the women because the men are practically naked all the time with just a little bit of strategic covering. They have to watch what they eat and train like crazy for the entire shoot of the show, which is incredibly difficult, but I think the evidence is up on the screen that they literally work their asses off.”
With a new season about to begin and additional season already announced, the series creator isn’t worried about the potential controversy that will undoubtedly follow future episodes featuring intimacy between same-sex partners. “Sure we get criticism,” says DeKnight, “but that’s the show it is. Thankfully STARZ is very supportive and we get to tell the story we want to tell.”
Spartacus: Vengeance premieres on STARZ January 27. You can watch the first episode online now at www.starz.com.